You may wonder why we even need to know this, and that is a good question. Within the search for truth of the Catholic Church, it matters because God created the angels and us in His image and likeness, as persons, individual substances of a rational nature, defined by Boethius the Christian martyr of the 5th-6th century. Though the word was borrowed from Greek, the concept was derived from the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, how God is One God, but Three Persons. The “rational nature” is what makes mankind unique among corporeal creatures (bodies of matter), and it is what we have in common with the angels who are more perfectly created in God’s image.
Striving to understand angels helps us to 1) better understand ourselves and our place in the hierarchy of creation, and 2) better understand our spiritual companions and warriors. We see more along the evolutionary path than just the evolution of matter. Learning about angels helps us to remember that the people we see are not the only people in our presence.
St. Thomas says that: “Angels and everything existing, except God, were made by God. God alone is His own existence; while in everything else the essence differs from the existence.” (ST I, Q. 61, Art. 1) He references scripture.
“For He spoke and they were made.” (Psalms 148:5)
Since the angels were created by God, at one time they did not exist. Only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is from eternity. It is heresy to claim otherwise. (ST I, Q. 61, Art. 2) St. Thomas references scripture again.
“The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning.” (Proverbs 8:22)
To the question of when the angels were created, St. Thomas cites the first verse of the Bible.
“In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” Genesis 1:1
He explains that this would not be true if anything had already been created, and concludes that “the angels were not created before corporeal nature.” (ST I, Q. 61, Art. 3) Corporeal nature refers to the material bodies.
The short answer is: In the beginning God created all things in the universe.
The reasoning is as follows: 1) There is only one universe, and angels are part of it. Therefore, the angels were created at the same time as all other bodies (corporeal creatures). They and material bodies constitute one universe. He holds that God created the universe as a whole, creature to creature, so he believes it improbable that God created some creatures before others since “Gods works are perfect.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)
St. Thomas also concedes that there are other opinions in the writings of the Fathers, and the contrary is not necessarily wrong. Angels could have been created before corporeal bodies, so long as it is still affirmed that they were created by God from nothing and created in the “beginning.” The “beginning” could have lasted for a long time with angels created first, followed by their period of probation to chose good or evil, followed by the creation of matter in which the angels were present to witness and rejoice at such wondrous works of God, followed by the evolution of matter, and then the creation of the first man, body and soul united. We do not even know how long it was from man’s creation until his first sin. What exactly constitutes the “beginning”? We do not know. Perhaps we do not need to know.
The 4th Lateran and the Vatican Councils declare “simultaneously at the beginning of time He created from nothing both spiritual and corporal creation.” (Canon 1)
simul ab initio temporis utramque de nihils condidit creaturam, spiritualem et corporalem angelicam videlicet et mundanam
Angelicam means angelic, of the spiritual world, mundanam means mundane, of the material world. Simul can mean either “at the same time” or “in total, together” as in Sirach 18:1, “He that lives for ever created all things together.” (qui vivet in æternum creavit omnia simul)
So, even the Councils did not define that spirits and matter were created at the same time, but that they were created all together by God, a de fide dogma of the Catholic Church. However, the sententia communis is, consistent with St. Thomas Aquinas, that both were created at the same time. Sententia communis refers to common teaching in the field of free opinions, but which is generally accepted by theologians. It is the level next to the lowest theological grade of certainty, which are probable opinions. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 3, 26, 1)
Now, smile and say hello to your ancient spiritual messengers who are in the room with you as you read this…
[Correction] This sentence was removed: “Incidentally, St. Thomas also maintains this point regarding the souls of man. Later in the Summa Theologica, he also concludes as probable that “the souls of all men were created at the same time as the angels.” (ST. I, Q. 90, Art. 4)” This was Origen’s argument which St. Thomas used to explain his own, which is that the human soul could not have been created before the body since both are essential to human nature. For the soul to be created before the body would imply the soul was some other species that united with a material body, which cannot be. Or at least, that is my interpretation, and I welcome explanations and further corrections.